Like many photographers, I bought a mirrorless camera so that I could have a high-quality, large-sensor camera as my constant companion, for everyday observational photography. I invested in a Fujifilm X100S and quickly grew to love its traditional handling and rangefinder-like viewfinder. And when I go away on holiday or for a long weekend, it’s often the only camera I take with me.
So I was not best pleased when, two days before I was due to go away to Lundy Island with my family, I dropped my beloved X100S onto the pavement, breaking its shutter release button and power switch. Fujifilm’s fast and efficient repair service was not going to be fast and efficient enough to fix the problem in time, so I did what any self-respecting journalist in the photography industry would do: I called in a favour.
I explained my plight to Professional Photo editorial director Roger Payne: “Do you have a good mirrorless camera I could borrow for a week?”
“Better than that, I’ve got two,” he replied. “But it’ll cost you a head-to-head review of them for the magazine. I want to know which one a professional photographer should buy.”
Fair enough, I thought.
X70- Perspective and foreground details
Apples and oranges
On the face of it you may think that comparing the X100T with the X70 is like comparing apples and oranges. There are lots of differences between them – the X100T has a 35mm f/2 equivalent lens, while the X70 field of view is the same as a 28mm f/2.8. The X100T is styled like a Leica rangefinder, with a viewfinder that toggles between electronic and optical modes, but the X70 eschews a finder altogether in favour of a flip-out touchscreen. And on the top of the X70 you’ll see a switch that engages a full-auto, fire-and-forget mode (the same as is found on the X-T10), which hints at its consumer orientation. There’s no such frivolity on the X100T, which is aimed squarely as pros and prosumers.
Nonetheless, the two cameras have more in common than separates them, particularly their design. For a photographer who wants a camera to take everywhere, these are both good choices. In fact, with no finder the X70 is much smaller and, on my trip to Lundy Island, I found myself stashing this in my coat pocket much more readily than I did with the X100T. Thankfully, though it doesn’t feel too small in the hand when you’re shooting with it.
The guts of the X100T and X70 have a lot in common, sharing the same 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans II sensor and image processor. 16-megapixels doesn’t sound like a lot these days and part of me wants to see pixel counts make nearer to the 20 or 24 mark. That said, A3+ prints from both cameras are fantastic and not lacking detail in the slightest. So the only real restriction is not being able to crop images too much in post – maybe that is Fujifilm’s way of telling us to get our composition sorted out in camera and stop being so lazy!
That’s something photographers will have to embrace if they work with either of these cameras. The fixed-lens approach to their design means you have one angle of view and that’s it (although add-on lens converters are available). I’ve always found no zoom a restriction that helps my creativity. I zoom with my feet and often think about other ways to change my viewpoint that I wouldn’t have if I’d just turned a zoom ring.
Shooting with fixed-lens Fujifilm cameras is not a completely hair-shirt experience though. Fujifilm is famous for its film simulation modes and epic dynamic range, and this is a real incentive to shoot JPEG and not rely on Raw processing. The X100T and X70 both feature a Classic Chrome film mode, which is probably inspired by Kodachrome, though Fujifilm is doubtless not allowed to say that. It’s a cracker and I found myself shooting in this way, or with a home-made black & white recipe, more-or-less all the time.
X100T - Captured with Classic Chrome film simulation mode
Worth the upgrade?
Considering just the X100T for a moment, I always thought the features that distinguish this from my X100S to be not enough to warrant upgrading. It’s the same sensor, with the same ISO settings, so image quality is going to be similar if not identical. The design is not dramatically different, with some minor tweaks. And the lens is the same too – a 23mm f/2 that I love. But after using the X100T, I’m starting to change my mind. The modifications to the camera’s controls and handling might sound small on paper, but they translate into a more satisfying user experience. Controls are in more sensible places and apertures can be adjusted in 1/3 stops on the aperture ring. Exposure compensation goes up to ±3 stops and the dial is stiffer, so it’s less likely to be moved accidently.
I was disappointed with the loss of the rotating command wheel from the back of the camera, until I realized how little I actually use it. I much prefer the unmarked multiway controller buttons that can be programmed to perform different functions by holding them down.
The camera feels more responsive in use, faster to respond to button pushes and the EVF refreshes quicker for less lag. And talking of speed, the AF system felt much improved: locking on to subjects more quickly and accurately. There is a new manual-focus aid too: a small electronic display in the optical viewfinder, which shows a magnified portion of the image.
The retro design that so many Fujifilm users loved in the first X100 camera is still intact. I’m a fan of dials and switches because, even after decades of LCD panels and push-and-twiddle functionality, the old-fashioned way of controlling cameras is still quicker when shooting creatively. You can look at the top of any X100 camera and see how they are set, even when the power is switched off. I can preset while it’s still in my bag, and adjusting apertures around the barrel of the lens just seems like a much quicker system that’s never really been bettered.
Other niceties include: the choice between a mechanical or electronic shutter, with a top speed of 1/32,000sec; face-detection autofocus; and built-in Wi-Fi. There is also an interval timer, for time-lapse movies. When the time came for me to give the X100T back, and start using my repaired X100S again, I was a bit sad to see these features go. The case for upgrading from S to T is not as clear-cut as I first thought.
"I found myself ditching the optical finder and using the camera’s fold-out viewscreen"
X70 - Looking up to the top of a lighthouse - a shot made simple with the camera's flip-out screen
Taking a wider view
I have to be honest that I came to the X70 expecting not to like it as much as the X100T. I love an optical viewfinder – especially those on the X100 series – so I wasn’t keen on a camera that lacks one. I used the optional VF-X21 finder with the X70, which is an add-on optical viewfinder that sits in the hotshoe, much like those for Leica and Voigtlander rangefinder cameras. It’s certainly bright and image quality is excellent, though it’s expensive for what it is (about £150) and doesn’t show any shooting information. It’s also quite high up, so parallax is quite prevalent.
But as time went on, I found myself ditching the optical finder and using the camera’s fold-out viewscreen instead. Combined with the aforementioned need to zoom with my feet, the flip-out screen encouraged me to experiment with different shooting angles, and I really enjoyed getting down low, treating the screen as a waist-level finder.
I didn’t get on with the touch-sensitive aspects of the screen as much: when shooting with the optical viewfinder I found myself changing camera functions with my nose. The touchscreen shooting mode can be turned off while leaving the playback functions active, which are much more useful.
The other big difference between the X70 and X100T is the focal length of the lens. The 18.5mm f/2.8 unit delivers a view equivalent to that of a 28mm lens on a full-frame camera, which may well be too wide for some. I’ve always quite enjoyed shooting close-quarters street photography with a 28mm lens, and I enjoyed the X70 too. When capturing the bleak landscapes of Lundy Island, I found it to be good for including foreground detail and exaggerating perspective to create compositional lead-in lines.
The maximum aperture is a stop less than the X100T. This doesn’t matter from a bokeh point of view, since the wider angle of the lens doesn’t encourage shallow depth-of-field shooting anyway, but I missed the opportunity to shoot at f/2 in low light and had to turn to high ISO instead. Fortunately this is very good on both cameras – I was as happy shooting at ISO 3200 as I am on my full-frame Nikon D800.
Other features (Wi-Fi, face detection, Classic Chrome) are very similar to the X100T, with the exception of the absent built-in ND filter. It’s a niggle, but perhaps Fujifilm realises that without the ability to shoot shallow depth-of-field images there is little point in being able to shoot wide open in bright sunlight? It’s still useful feature for long-exposure landscape photography though.
Make a decision, man!
When this article was conceived I was asked which camera would I have in my bag?’ My preconceived answer was the X100T, but having used both cameras, I’m not so sure. I liked the X70 more than I expected – I even found myself smiling while I was using it. Plus, it’s so small I can see myself taking it to even more places than I take my X100S. I miss the viewfinder, but not as much as I thought, and I came back from Lundy with some great pictures from its wider-angle lens.
In an ideal world, I’d have both – using them together or separately as the situation required. If I was pressed to choose one, it would probably be the X100T as it’s more versatile. But hats off to Fujifilm for the X70 – it’s a great little camera and at no point did I feel I was using something less ‘pro-like’ than the X100 series. If you like shooting sweeping landscapes, street photography or citizen photojournalism then this is a great choice. If you’re considering upgrading your smartphone for a better camera, why not get one of these instead?
And for the X100T I only have praise. The jump from the original X100 to the X100S was so significant that Fujifilm almost produced the prefect fixed-lens camera. In the X100T, it could be argued that they have. Only its poor video mode, slightly modest pixel count and lacklustre battery life attract criticism.